It's another July weekend, with something like an eternity (3 weeks) until the St. Louis Rams report for training camp. It's the longest three weeks of the year.
Before jumping into this morning's post, I wanted to pass along some news. This week I was fortunate enough to score an interview with St. Louis Rams QB and the franchise's fresh young fellow, Sam Bradford. We talked about expectations for him with the Rams, his contract and even the fate of the Big 12. The Sam Bradford interview is coming Monday, so be sure to check back then.
In the meantime, let's try to get through this three week slog by jumping ahead to the fall and the 2010 NFL season. I was looking at the Rams' 2010 schedule the other day,. The temptation is to look at the schedule and start predicting wins and losses, but that usual road is tough one to navigate at this point. From here, games against the Falcons and Saints in the second half of the season look like readymade blowouts. A smile and a kiss from the fates could make could easily turn those two games into walk throughs for the Rams...maybe.
Given where the Rams are in the rebuilding process with a rookie QB and some big question marks for playmaking, looking for milestones on the schedule is a slightly more useful tool to gauge the team's progress than their overall win-loss record. Here are my picks for the Rams' key games in 2010:
Week 1 - vs. Arizona
Naturally the first game of the season makes this list. How could it not? Despite the odds, which are against them here, Spagnuolo's Rams have to come out of the gate fired up and ready to go. They got off to a decent start in last year's opener in Seattle before falling flat after the first quarter. That can't happen here.
What to watch: The defense should be much further along to start this season. Young leaders of the unit like James Laurinaitis and Chris Long know the system and elevated their games last season. They'll be working against a Kurt Warner-less Cardinals team, a unit they played fairly well against late last season. My hope is that Bradley Fletcher is back in action in enough time next month to get back up to speed with the starting unit. He and Ron Bartell really started to gel for a brief moment last season. An OJ Atogwe with something to prove should also be a big help. The Rams offense will have it's problems as Arizona has a what looks to be a good defense. Who'll be under center? And can they at least keep the defense off the field long enough to catch their breath?
Week 4 - vs. Seattle
Any time you play a hated rival it's a big game. This is certainly not the Rams most "winnable" game of the season's first quarter, but it's an interesting matchup on several levels and could be the best first chance for Sam Bradford to really show off his skills.
What to watch: Sam Bradford's accuracy is perfectly matched against a Seattle team weak at the cornerback spot. They upgraded their coverage with the selection of Texas S Earl Thomas, but Bradford has had Thomas' number before. The offensive line will get a good test here, if Seattle's work with their front seven pays off. True, they don't have the marquee sack guys anymore, but they're still dangerous for the Rams. Ideally, this week is where a healthy offensive line really starts hitting its stride. On the other side of the ball, much will depend on the health of Matt Hasselbeck. A Steven Jackson rematch against LB Aaron Curry should be interesting.
Week 12 - @ Denver
The week 10 game against San Francisco begins a second half of the season that puts the Rams on the road five times, and it's probably a much tougher match up than this one. However....
What to watch: ...battle of the hyped QBs, of course. Tim Tebow vs Sam Bradford. Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold will have a lot to say about Bradford's success in this game, since they'll be the point men for keeping Elvis Dumervil out of the backfield. No easy task. Steven Jackson could also be a real difference maker here since the Broncos don't look to be much improved against the run. Denver has a big question mark on their offensive line with Ryan Clady recovering from a torn pateller tendon. Without Clady the Rams front seven can get to Tebow. Can they also contain the ground game?
Week 14 - @ New Orleans
Without a doubt, this is the toughest game on the Rams schedule at this point in the season. Can Spagnuolo's team match the effort they put forth last year against the eventual champs?
What to watch: The Rams are overmatched at almost every spot of the field. What was so surprising about last year's game against the Saints was the Rams' performance through the air. The Saints secondary depends on the turnover. Bulger threw just one INT, so hopefully this is another place where Bradford's accuracy gets to shine. Of course, Steven Jackson also had 131 yards rushing. The Saints may not come close to Greatest Show levels of production this year, but they should be able to score. The defense will have it's hands full. I'm not going to tell to you bet against the spread in this game. However, if the Rams put forth a strong effort here, I think we can look forward to 2011, if there's a season, with confidence and maybe even a little swagger.